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What Is A Media Lab?

situated practices in media studies

Category / Interviews

An Interview with Daniel Fetzner of the Laboratory of Media Ecology

Ambient technologies such as smartphones create novel environmental references between people, nature and technology. The Laboratory of Media Ecology (LME) at the University of Applied Sciences Offenburg examines these structures, in theory and practice, in the form of experimental setups and text work.

What is your lab called and where is it?

Our lab is called Media Ecology Lab (LME) and is situated at Offenburg University in Germany.

What sorts of projects and activities form the core of your work? Is there a specific temporal or technological focus for your lab?

In our work we focus on artistic research in the context of the media ecological discourse. As media is embedded in specific social, spatial and narrative situation the context matters and creates diverse entanglements that we explore. We try to consider technology not as an end in itself.

The focus of the LME is on space installations, interactive film, 360° video and performing arts. Through the mediation of theoretical and practical foundations from the fields of media art, media science, media informatics, media phenomenology, graphics programming and physical computing, we support and accompany student explorations. Depending on the application field, sensor data from the immediate environment, data from the internet or generative values are used.

Who uses the lab? Is it a space for students, for researchers, for seminars?

The LME is intensively used by our students and researchers. We also use it as an experimental framework during our interdisciplinary conferences in the fields of media, somatics, dance and philosophy. The purpose of our use of technology is speculative and aiming at the exploration of our senses.
How does it feel?” is a leading question.

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An Interview with Mark Algee-Hewitt of the Stanford Literary Lab

Interview by Hillary Susz, MFA Candidate at CU Boulder

HS: What is your lab called and where is it?

MA-H: The lab is called “The Stanford Literary Lab,” and it is located at Stanford University, in Palo Alto, California.

HS: What sorts of projects and activities form the core of your work? Is there a specific temporal or technological focus for your lab?

MA-H: Our focus is primarily on the quantitative, and computational, analysis of texts in order to speak to questions of Literary critical or historical interest. In terms of our methodologies, we work with a variety of different text mining, NLP and otherwise quantitative approaches depending on the needs of the given project. Chronologically, our work ranges from the Medieval period, to contemporary writing. But, what unites the research of the Literary Lab is our primary focus on the Literary critical questions that we seek to answer through this range of methodologies. That is, our projects and studies are rarely inspired by a technology or method, but rather, seek to find (or create) appropriate methods for the Literary critical and historical concepts that we research. Although most of our work has been on corpora that are specifically Literary (whether prose or poetry), recent projects have begun incorporating other kinds of texts into our analyses.

HS: Can you clarify what you mean by critical or historical interests? What are the critical questions you seek to answer? What are examples of projects that explore these questions and interests? 

MA-H: What really drives the lab as a research group are concepts that are important to us as humanists. Most of us are literary scholars, so that takes different forms based on the questions we want to explore. Some of us deal with critical theory—representations of gender or exploring the discourse of race in American fiction. Some of us take a more formalist approach—the shape and form of narrative or how word patterns change across texts. We seek to understand the function of literary texts in a historical context. A lot of our projects deal with synchronic structures in the world, even if they don’t change over time.

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An Interview with Neal White of the Office of Experiments

Interview by Jussi Parikka

6/2016

Neal White runs the Office of Experiments, a research platform that “works in the expanded field of contemporary art.” The Office employs methods of fieldworks, works with a range of partners including scientists, academics, activists and enthusiasts, and is described as exploring “issues such as time, scale, control, power, cooperation and ownership, highlighting and navigating the spaces between complex bodies, organisations and events that form part of the industrial, military, scientific and technological complex.” White is also Professor at Westminster University, London.

This interview, conducted via email in June and July 2016, was set in the context of the What is a Media Lab-project and aims to address the questions of artistic practice, labs and the (post)studio as an environment of critical investigations of technological and scientific culture. Another interview with Neal White, conducted by John Beck, is published in the new edited collection Cold War Legacies (Edinburgh University Press, 2016).

JP: Can you start by describing what the Office of Experiments does? I am interested in its institutional form in the sense also Gilles Deleuze talks of institutions as “positive models for action” in contrast to law being a limitation on action. The Office also carries the legacy of modern institutional form par excellence – not the artist’s studio with its romantic connotations, not the laboratory either with its imaginary of science, but the office as an organizational site. Why an office?

NW: The Office of Experiments makes art through a process of collaboration in which all of those who undertake research, make or apply thinking to a project can be credited. We bring together artistic forms of research with experimental and academic research in the field, undertaking observational analysis, archival research, road trips, building platforms and prolonged formal visual studies that reflect the complexity of the subjects we approach. Our approach is to build a counter rational analysis or account of the world in which we live. To move this away from any poetic vision, we draw on ideas from conceptual art, and disciplines such as geography and science studies, architecture and political activism, as well as looking at physical space, data, and the material layer which connects the observatories, global sensors etc of our contemporary world; the interface between the technological and material world.

Having some formative education in Digital Arts, an MA in 1997 and then running a successful art and technology group in Shoreditch, London, in late nineties and up to 2001 (Soda), my experiences collaborating with others was critical to how I work now, and the work of others that interests me. As I wanted to deliberately move away from the hermetic space that media / digital art was creating for itself – the Lab, and to set up an independent contemporary art practice, that moved across spaces, enclosures, archives, in and out of galleries, often working in situ, and which was networked, I needed to find a way of working with others that was neither exploitative nor driven by serving another discipline or field.

Having opened conversations with John Latham in 2002-3, the now late British artist, I was introduced to Artist Placement Group. I was strongly influenced at this point both by Latham’s ideas of time/temporality (as applied to institutions) as well as incidental practices, and I applied those in an instituent form (Raunig) as Office of Experiments. The Office was therefore the solution to working collaboratively as an artist in a critical way, so that credit would be spread, and all those collaborating within each project get something out – whether as art or as an academic output/text, relevant to their individual discipline.

I was attracted to the term Office initially as it holds some idea of power, when thinking of a government department or Bureau, but is also instrumental – something that I felt was and is increasingly asked of art (evaluating audiences for funding etc). However, Office alone does not work, it is too close to that which it is critical of, so it is only when used with the term experiment, and the ideas of experimental systems (Rheinberger), which were also key to my work at this time, that an agonistic dichotomy comes to the fore. This works for me, as we could say the terms are counter-productive, the name undermines itself linguistically (i.e. As Robert Filliou put it “Art is what makes life so much better than Art’). In this respect, it serves the ideas that shape our research, to create a form of counter-enquiry that can hold to account the rational logic of hard scientific enquiry, ideas of progress, the ethical spaces of advanced industry and science.

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An Interview with Jason Nanna of the Synchroton Media Research Laboratory

What is your lab called and where is it?

I run the Synchroton Media Research Laboratory, located in Milwaukee, WI USA.  It is augmented by the Geographical Research Unit, a nomadic dwelling and testbed for alternative living and my personal R&D/performance activities.

What sorts of projects and activities form the core of your work? Is there a specific temporal or technological focus for your lab?

At its core I view one of the primary roles of the SMRL is as an extra-institutional research/collaboration center for projects and people related to my personal fields of interest.  Located in an old factory building, it comprises a workshop and test bench for electronics design, modification and testing, and a large studio space suited to facilitating a wide variety of experimental endeavors, mostly alternative media production, forms of performance or creation that tend toward interdisciplinarity and are strongly non-traditional. It’s a direct reflection of my own attitudes toward prevailing and minor forms of creative production.

Who uses the lab? Is it a space for students, for researchers, for seminars?

[The lab] is a loose resource network for those around me (perhaps a few dozen) with limited/nonexistent access to resources that might otherwise be provided by universities or makerspaces. The lab stocks, accumulates, and redistributes equipment and supplies (especially electronics components and such) to people around me — in particular the group of artists that occupy or regularly work in the building in which it resides, which is a large (broadly defined) artist studio space. I do everything I can to provide technical assistance, tools, etc. to those around me.

What sorts of support does the lab receive? (e.g. government grants, institutional grants, private donors)

It is personally funded – the only real support it receives is rent-compensation in exchange for my own activities managing the artist space.  I believe its continued existence for over a decade to be one of the exceptional accomplishments of this space as existing outside of those institutional opportunities(which also entail certain demands and expectations) although it is largely owing to self-sacrifice.  It is not suited towards entrepreneurship, perhaps the opposite – rather towards encouraging those things that are incapable of surviving by way of mass appeal.  I have had bad experiences with grant-based funding in the past, and prefer to pursue a course of minimal financial requirements.

What sorts of knowledge does the lab produce and how is it circulated?

Much of the ‘research’ has lately been in the realm of analog audio/visual synthesis but it is one of many meanderings.  The studio has a vast array of obsolete and obscure technology and one strong focal point is an  attempt to discover lost technologies or re-contextualize old technology to new ends – a prime example being the large array of nuclear instrumentation modules which have been at one point used to design a computerless interactive audiovisual game. Although much work is done around the lab involving the state of the art as well, I believe that one of its strong focal points is taking a critical stance to the notion that technological progress invalidates and ‘obsoletes’ old technologies.  Also, working against the sense in which media production comes as the second half of a process which first involves consumption of corporate/mass-defined tools. A primary objective is to change the media landscape through an engagement with the tools themselves, crafting or modifying, prototyping, creating bespoke technologies, relying on and contributing to the open-source landscape. Technological engagement at a low level rather than buying a few apps and calling oneself a ‘media artist’.  On a related note I personally find the term ‘artist’ to be problematic and I believe my problem domain to be much wider than creating aesthetic works (that perhaps include some ‘commentary’ or something).

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An Interview with Emmanuel Guez at PAMAL Lab, Avignon, France

This interview has been translated from French.

PAMAL [Preservation and Art – Media Archaeology Lab] is probably the first media archeology lab in France – what makes it a media archaeology lab and what are the core activities of your activities? Is there a specific temporal or technological focus for your Lab or what forms its core?

EG: PAMAL was founded in 2013 at the Ecole Supérieure d’Art in Avignon.

If we were to define the archeology of the media, I would say that it is the science of media life and death.

From the media, we take up the definition given by Friedrich Kittler: machines for recording, storage and manipulation of data. The field of study of PAMAL does not cover all media, but only digital machines: computers and networks.

A Media Archeology Lab is primarily a place of experimentation. It seems impossible to understand the media without experimenting, without confronting the matter, that is to say code, hardware, infrastructures …. Our field of experimentation is the artistic production and preservation of works of art and digital literature.

We are currently developing four research programs.

The first concerns the conservation and restoration of digital works of art.

The second one concerns the exhibition.

In the third, we try to build an online, dynamic and collaborative relational database, which allows us to account for technological temporalities, obsolescence phenomena as well as software and hardware (in) compatibilities.

Finally, we set up a studio of art-archaeological art creation.

I want to go back to the first two research programs.

At PAMAL, we duplicate missing or sick works, even in a deficient way. We reconstitute them with the original machines (ie. the hardware and the stack of softwares). We call these duplications of the “original originals”, which then become “archives”. For example, we have restored a Minitel server for a telematic work by Eduardo Kac or a work on Amiga 1000 by Annie Abrahams and Jan de Weille, whose only available trace was code printed on paper listing.

The gaps that appear during the production of the second originals interest us to the highest degree. While the dominant approach in the conservation-restoration of uncoded works is to integrate the gap, our approach is to exhibit it. Deficiencies can be the manifestation of what we call breaks in the media ecosystem (uses and discourse, and especially material / software correlations) and are, therefore, instructive in thinking about the archeology of the digital arts. They enable us to measure endangered knowledge, know-how, devices and technical devices.

All this invites us to think differently of the exhibition of works: how far must we show fully functional works? How to show dead or dying works? How to integrate the bug in the exhibition? The stakes are important here because the dominant practices within French institutions are emulation, portage or, to a lesser extent, reinterpretation. For them, everything happens as if the machines did not produce effects on perception and on experience. As if, by themselves, these machines did not tell something. We believe that we must revisit the logic of access to works of art and digital literature and that we can not reduce a work to its “functioning” or to its idea.

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An Interview with Bernard Perron, Guillaume Roux-Girard and Carl Therrien at Ludiciné Lab, Université de Montréal

What is your lab called and where is it?

Our lab is called the Ludiciné Lab, and is located in the Department of Arts History and Films Studies at Université de Montréal (Montréal, Québec, Canada). You can find the basic information about our installations and collection (70+ platforms, 3500+ games) under the “L” at <www.ludov.ca>

What sorts of projects and activities form the core of your work? Is there a specific temporal or technological focus for your lab?

The primary focus of the lab is to support pedagogical activities such as classes and seminars provided within the undergraduate Minor in game studies as well as the Master degree with an option in game studies. The lab also supports research projects such as the “Video game genres and discourse communities” project conducted by the Ludov team (supervised by Bernard Perron, Dominic Arsenault, and Carl Therrien), and the “History of the game experience” project (supervised by Carl Therrien). Acquisitions reflect the needs of our classes and projects, which focus on technological, formal, psychological and aesthetic properties of video games and game playing, and the evolution of these dimensions in history. Game boxes, magazines and other epi/paratextual elements are also collected and made accessible.

Who uses the lab? Is it a space for students, for researchers, for seminars?

All of the above, but it is mainly used by students at both the graduate and undergraduate levels.

What sorts of knowledge does the lab produce (writing, demonstrations, patents etc.) and how is it circulated (e.g. conference papers, pamphlets, books, videos, social media)?

The lab is a great space to host internal presentations for Ludov related research projects. It will also host game demonstrations for students in the upcoming semesters. The creation and objectives of the lab have been the subject of conference papers, and its role in the production of knowledge is always acknowledged in the journal papers published by members of the research teams. More information about these contributions can be found on the pages for each research project, under the “O” (for “observation”) at <www.ludov.ca>.

Tell us about your infrastructure. Do you have a designated space and how does that work?

Yes, we indeed have a designated space. The first small space we had was redesigned in the Summer of 2013. It is divided between a play space, and a storage room where the material is kept, filed and maintained. We now have around 15 play stations (HD, PC, Retro and Emulation). We are open 16 hours per week. We hire two undergraduate students per semester to prepare the playing materiel for the students. The latter reserve online the day before their visit.

What sorts of support does the lab receive? (e.g. government grants, institutional grants, private donors)

All the support comes from university funding, more specifically from the Arts and Sciences Faculty. It was based on a 5-year development plan. After this, we’ll need to be more creative. However, we also had a lot of donations from students and private collectors. Video games companies such as Warner Bros. and Ubisoft Montréal have sent us some of their games. Professors also use their own research funds (from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and the Fonds Société et culture of Québec) to add to the collection.

What are your major theoretical touchstones?

Video game history, media archeology, genre studies, paratextual studies. The Lab is an ideal resource to develop case studies of specific platforms, studios or games.

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An Interview with Lily Diaz and Philip Dean at Media Lab Helsinki

An interview with Lily Diaz-Kommonen and Philip Dean of the Media Lab Helsinki in Aalto.

Can you tell us about the background and emergence of the Media Lab Helsinki?

Lily Diaz: The Media Lab Helsinki came into being in 1994. It was formed by merging the existing resources of the Computer-aided photography lab led by Philip Dean and the IMI (Image Media Institute), an experimental unit created in 1992 to investigate high-end 3D animation and 3D computer-aided design (and provide master’s-level education in those areas). Because there was a need to create an academic unit that would concentrate on the potential of digital technologies to transform media and create new markets for new media content, a discussion ensued (involving the Ministry and other key players in the Finnish education scene) as to where to host such an environment. At the time there seemed to be a desire to focus on the education of new media content developers as well as to further develop collaborative applied research with Finnish industry. These orientations might have played a role in the decision about where to locate the unit, so that it was eventually placed at the University of Art and Design Helsinki (Taideteollinen korkeakoulu).

Originally the Media Lab project received three years additional funding from the ministry. This institution – that in 2010 became the School of Arts, Design and Architecture at Aalto University – has deep roots in the history of Finnish design, from having been the descendant of the School of Craft and Arts, initially based in the venerable Ateneum building during the late 19th Century.

The Lab opened its doors in 1994 and was a key partner is hosting the 4th International Society of Electronic Arts (ISEA) Conference. The Conference itself was a highlight, featuring the best and latest [research and innovations from] the international electronic arts/media culture scene.

The initial team at the Media Lab Helsinki [was] comprised [of] Philip Dean, Kari-Hans Kommonen, Isto Männistö and, later, Minna Tarkka.

Having [just] started the master’s studies program in the previous year, the Lab did not have a post-graduate program of studies when I arrived as a doctoral student and researcher in 1995. Post-graduate studies were done independently with tutoring by professors in the departments of Design and of Art Education where postgraduate programs and communities of researchers already had existed since the late 1980s.

Art and design research is certainly not a new endeavour. What is new is the growing trend by which artists and designers have become involved in research activities as part of their practice, cultivating and acquiring a voice as researchers and with an understanding of their role as creators of primary sources.

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An Interview with Rob Duarte, director of the REBOOT Laboratory

REBOOT operates at the edge of visual art and something akin to scientific inquiry. We exist in a research university and part of the concept of the lab is to have our work creep into traditional research venues. In this way, we might be able to subtly inject critical, subversive, political ideas into contexts that might otherwise be driven by the apolitical pursuit of strictly technical knowledge.

In addition to founding the REBOOT Lab, Rob Duarte is an artist and an assistant professor in the Department of Art at Florida State University.

What is your lab called and where is it?

REBOOT Laboratory lives in the Facility for Arts Research (FAR) at Florida State University. In addition to directing the lab, I’m also an Assistant Professor and Digital Media area head in the FSU Department of Art.

What sorts of projects and activities form the core of your work? Is there a specific temporal or technological focus for your lab?

From the website:

REBOOT is a laboratory that looks toward our culture’s production of waste as a point of departure for a critical engagement with technology. Our approach is rooted in the visual arts and is driven by our collective knowledge of process, materials, and experimentation; as well as a commitment to revealing the social, political, and cultural aspects of technology.

Through collaborations with artists and researchers at FSU and beyond, REBOOT projects cast a critical eye on technoculture and the logical consequences of the ways in which we produce, consume, and discard technology. This examination of the political components of technology occurs through a hands-on process of thinking and making, with the goal of provoking discussion and action that will bring about alternative, preferred futures.

The lab has two projects at the moment: FixShop is an art project that takes the form of a repair shop storefront. Through the theatrical play of a repair shop and its employees, we accept “broken”, outmoded, and obsolete designed objects from individuals. We discuss the owner’s relationship to the object as well as their expectations and desires for the “repaired” object. The objects are rarely restored to their former function, but are instead transformed / redesigned / reinvented to become alternately humorous, contemplative, or poetic reflections on our consumer culture, the value of mass-produced vs hand-made objects, etc.

The other project is called DIY Resource Recovery and is driven by experimental research into waste products. The aim of the project is to discover low-tech ways of converting waste into useful materials for making. The focus is on finding low-tech, personal or studio-scale methods that provide a sustainable alternative to municipal recycling. The goals for this project are not related to technical efficiency or commercialization, but pure experimentation and materials-based discovery.

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An Interview with Andrew Quitmeyer of Digitial Naturalism

An interview with Andrew Quitmeyer, a PhD student at Georgia Tech whose research investigates the role that Digital Media can play for Biological Field Work. What is your lab called and where is it? Digital Naturalism – Mobile Studios Location: Anywhere (theoretically), often in tropical rainforests that we have hiked into with some field biologists and artists. […]

An Interview with Dr. Matthew Kirschenbaum of Maryland Institute for Technology

Interview by Jaime Kirtz

Matthew G. Kirschenbaum is Associate Professor in the Department of English at the University of Maryland and Associate Director of the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH, an applied thinktank for the digital humanities). He is the author of Mechanisms: New Media and the Forensic Imagination (MIT Press, 2008) and Track Changes: A Literary History of Word Processing (Harvard University Press, 2016).

JK: Can you explain a bit about you, your role in the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities and how you came to be involved?

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